A look at other findings in CN audit

Posted4/28/2010 12:01 AM

Canadian National Railway executives will be on the hot seat today as U.S. Surface Transportation Board members grill them over missing numbers in reports about train crossing delays.

When the STB approved CN's purchase of the EJ&E Railway, regulators imposed a number of conditions based mainly on the local opposition to the merger. These include monthly operational reports on freight train frequency and number of crossing blockages - an item the STB's consultants say CN underreported to the tune of about 1,400 incidents between November and December.


CN's plan in buying the EJ&E was to switch freight trains from crowded tracks running through Chicago to the "J," which stretches between Waukegan and Gary, Ind.

Numerous suburbs along the EJ&E from Aurora to Barrington fought the change, citing noise, traffic and safety.

It resulted in the STB requiring CN to compile those monthly reports - and when residents complained the railroad's findings didn't match what they were hearing and seeing, the agency ordered an independent audit.

Auditors HDR's main finding was that CN reported only train crossing blockages of 10 minutes or more involving stopped trains not slow trains, resulting in the railroad indicating there were only 14 incidents in November and December not the combined total of 1,457.

But the audits also focuses on other aspects of CN's performance.

• Noise and vibration. TRAC, a coalition of towns opposed to the EJ&E purchase, told the STB noise from train traffic was excessive. The auditors found no evidence train noise and vibration was above what the STB allowed for. But they noted that affected communities need to talk to CN about noise problems and CN is required to respond. Auditors specifically recommended CN work with Barrington and Deer Park over such concerns.

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• Operational accidents. HDR found the railroad "was not reporting all grade crossing incidents to the board that it reports to the Federal Railroad Administration." A survey from February 2009 through December 2009 found CN informed the FRA of 50 accidents or incidents but informed the STB of 39. CN told the auditors they used an FRA threshold of $8,900 in reporting incidents.

• Community outreach. HDR found for the most part, CN was initiating contact with communities consistent with STB requirements. It could work more on giving towns copies of emergency response plans and notifying authorities about blocked crossings, they noted.

Meanwhile TRAC officials asked the STB Tuesday to question CN about audit findings that some crossing delays occurred when warning lights and gates were activated but no train was there. The organization cited two instances when warnings didn't work at a Hoffman Estates crossing when a train was coming and drew parallels with a fatal accident in University Park April 16 when a Naperville teacher died because gates and lights weren't activated.